I, like many dedicated teachers, avoid the teacher’s lounge like the plague. I claim it’s because I have too much to do, but really it’s because I don’t have time to be around all the Negative Nancies who delight in complaining about ALL THE THINGS. I hide out in my friend “Ryan’s” classroom and eat lunch with him, instead.
Ryan and I have very different approaches to our lunchbox experience. Ryan has a system, he tells me. He brings the same thing for lunch every day–every day–for a month. A MONTH. January was ham sandwiches. February was salad. Ryan is also singlehandedly keeping the Fruit Roll-Up people in business. (No grown up should eat that many fruit snacks…) I, on the other hand, bring in the leftovers of whatever I cooked for dinner in the last few days. Soups, curries, a few well-selected casseroles. Literally whatever is in the fridge comes to work in the pink paisley lunch bag.
Ryan’s always telling me how great my lunches look and how he needs to “mix it up.” “Why don’t you just bring leftovers, too?” I ask. I mean, I am not the first person in history to bring leftovers to work…
That’s when the truth comes out. Ryan gets away only having to cook about three nights out of seven by scrounging up invites to other people’s houses–so he never has leftovers. He claims he is just being social. I maintain he’s free-loading, in part because I am jealous that he actually has that many people willing to provide him with free food on a regular basis, a pattern that I believe is in no small part due to the fact he is a bachelor. As a bachelorette, on the other hand, I am not so lucky.
Don’t get me wrong. I like cooking myself. But it feels unfair. All grown-up persons past college age should be expected to cook for themselves most of the time.
Last week, I was in the mood for something comfort food-y, and tossed together a riff on a pasta bake. I brought it to work for lunch a couple days in a row, and Ryan couldn’t stop talking about how good it looked, smelled, etc. He does this sometimes. He never makes anything I make. He just asks. So I tell him how easy it is, berate him (as usual) for being a freeloader and/or eating salad for the 39th day in a row, and then we move on.
But then last night I get a text message: “How long do you think I should cook the chicken before I put it in my pasta bake?”
Ryan does this–brings me in halfway through a conversation he’s been having in his head like I’ve been there the whole time. Through a series of slightly confused messages, I deduce that Ryan was so impressed by my pasta bake, he decided he needed to do it for himself. I feel so proud. My baby bird is spreading his wings to fly. I tell him this. He tells me to shut up, then thanks me for the chicken-cooking advice, and says good night.
Then, fifteen minutes later: “How long did you cook your pasta for?”
Before I can even finish that response: “Should I use the whole jar of pasta sauce? Will that be enough?”
Then five minutes after that: “I’m at a crisis! I’ve only got one 7×11 pan, and I needed that for the chicken. Should I wash it out so I can reuse it for the pasta bake, or should I use the deeper casserole dish?”
I’m flattered that Ryan actually thinks I care whether he uses the 7×11 or the casserole dish. (I vote for the latter, incidentally, because I wouldn’t want to wait to clean it out. He concurs with my expertise.)
I even get photos of the finished product a half hour later. It’s so funny to me that something like pasta bake is the thing that inspires a person to get into the kitchen. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t fancy. But I don’t knock it. I am a big supporter of anything that gets real life, busy, modern adults into their kitchens and experiencing the cooking process for themselves.
I heard somewhere once that cooking is one of the most fundamentally “human” things about our species. No animals cook. Just people. And when we give up cooking, we give up something uniquely human about us. It is a skill many of us have lost, and need to fight to keep.
Even Ryan. Even with a pasta bake.
I glanced at my phone, and the photo of Ryan’s version of pasta bake. I smiled and texted back:
“Well done, Grasshopper. Well done.”
If you would like to try my spin on pasta bake, look under my “recipes” tab.